Are you trying to get started with Exclusive Pumping? The information in this guide even applies to occasional pumping, if that's your jam too!
For me, "breastfeeding" is an umbrella term that both nursing/latching and pumping fall under. Pumping is breastfeeding.
There are a lot of reasons why moms may want to or need to exclusively pump. I am not a person to discourage anyone else regarding their choices, and I’m absolutely the last person to ever shame another mom for something that they do or choose.
Personally, the reason why I exclusively pumped with my second baby is because we had some latch issues from the beginning- we had to supplement the formula in the hospital because I had C-vid and they had given me Sudafed which basically dried up my milk for the first day or two. Things were a little bit tricky and it was impossible to "just latch her". When I had my first baby we also had a couple of issues with breastfeeding, I also did not know how to pump (like, at all) so at that time exclusive pumping wasn’t an easy or doable option for me.
I would like to add that my decision to formula feed my first child was not entirely my own, I had a lot of outside influence and general.. discouragement/misinformation.. that I won’t get into in this post. I only bring that up because I want every other mom to know that it is only their choice! Not their partner, mother, grandmother, in-laws, nobody! Nobody else has the right to choose or influence how they will feed their baby. People can give their bad advice which is almost always unsolicited, but in the end it is your choice. You are in the driver's seat.
Nursing is hard. Exclusive pumping is even harder. Both of these things can be made easier with the proper education and tools.
You don’t need to have the most top of the line, trending, most expensive everything. There are of course some thing that have (at least in my case) made pumping an absolute breeze – as much as it can be – and have been worth every penny that they cost. I will make a few product recommendations in this post based off of my own experiences and things that I personally use on a daily basis, but you are absolutely free to go and research and find things that you like for yourself as well.
Now, here are my basic tips for getting started with exclusive pumping, this also can apply to occasional pumping.
I’m going to "bottom line" this post sort of like a TL:DR kind of deal – and I’m going to add a basic checklist for those of you who don’t have the luxury of time to read through my super long post. Scroll to the bottom for the summary and good graphics! If you're looking for any discount codes or links for products mentioned, visit my link page here.
This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you click one of my links and make a purchase, I may make a small commission at no additional cost to you. This helps to support my blog and family! Read my full disclosure here.
I am a Certified Breastfeeding Specialist. However, the advice and tips on my pages is not personalized individual medical advice and you should always discuss concerns with your healthcare provider or seek the help of a lactation professional. I do not currently offer consults or counseling, just general information.
First and foremost: you can’t pump without a pump!
I have personally been getting my hands on as many as I can to test and review so that I am familiar with their features, their pros and cons, their specs and just general feel of them. At the time that I write this, my top two favorites are the Spectra Synergy Gold for stationary pumping (because this is wall plug only) and my favorite for portability sake and regular/daily use is the Pumpables Genie Advanced. I have quite a few more that I have acquired that I have to test- but these have still remained my favorite based on their features, strength, and general feel.
Remember: everyone responds differently to different pumps! One may work wonders for your neighbor or sister, but not for you! It's an expensive game of "lets find out what works".
Looking into buying a pump? I've constructed a huge list of all of the pumps on the market (which I try to update frequently as more come out) if you'd like to take a look.
I recommend that you get a good electric pump that will allow you to be able to get up if you choose to or need to. Newborn babies don’t require you to get up as much as an older baby or toddler will. When that time comes, you will need to get up about 10 times within the first few minutes of your session. Every time. However, if you have a pump that is not wall plug only, you will be able to get up and walk across the room to get the thing that you so desperately need.
On top of a good electric pump I recommend that you have a manual pump that you know how to use in the event of an emergency. This could be a power outage, or something malfunctions on your regular pump and you’re unable to use it. If you have a baby that can’t latch and a pump that doesn’t work, you’re in for a long night until you can get to the store and buy a replacement.
It’s better to be prepared for something that you might not ever need to use, (that was very cheap) than to not have something and really really really need it. A note, the silicone type suction pumps like a haakaa are really not gonna do the job as well as a manual pump would and they are typically equal in price. The negative pressure is typically intended to catch an active letdown, but can be tough at completely draining the breast. They're not meant for full time use!
I also recommend that you keep at least one set of every replaceable part for your pump on hand at all times because they like to wear out at three in the morning when all the stores are closed. This includes all of your soft parts, and your tubing just in case. If one part fails and you have no back up, the pump cannot function properly!
Here's an example of how often most parts should be replaced. In the diagram, I refer to 'silicone flanges' as specifically the Pumpables Liquid Inserts. Other thicker silicone flanges do not need to be replaced that often! Pumpin Pal flanges and Lacteck flanges are typically only needing to be replaced if damaged.
And you may think that by "portable pump" I mean those wearables like Willow, Elvie, and Momcozy to name a few. I personally cannot afford those just to test, but from the amount that I see being resold and the amount of poor reviews- I can only assume that they are not all they’re cracked up to be. A select few are good but some of the cheaper and more popular ones can actually be very in efficient at removing milk and can end up hurting your supply. If you're gonna spend $300-$500 on wearable pumps, they should work IMPECCABLY every single time. But that's not the case!
Update: I have received some of these fancy wearable pumps from friends and will test them out a bunch and report back, but my initial findings are absolutely that they do not work for everyone and they're finicky. If I relied on these as my only pumps, boy would I be in trouble.
These are not typically intended for primary use, you need a "real pump". These are a great option to have for going back to work, or using every now and then when you really need to be hands-free and tube free, but I really strongly recommend that you do not rely only on these. Personally I don't think they're worth the price tag, but to each their own.
The second most important thing that you will need in addition to a pump is flanges of course. "What do you mean, Anna? Don't they come with the pump? Why do I need to buy more?"
Well, let me tell you! The ones in the box are typically not the correct size, this is because they can provide one that is too large that everyone can use rather than one that can be too small that only some people can use.
You want to use a measuring tool such as this one here – this is printable and free – to measure your nipples. I’ve read that you should not measure before 37 weeks pregnant as your nipples can still change in size before the baby is born. For those who have already had their babies, measure now! Do it! Also, your size may change over time. Mine decreased in size 3 times in 9 months.
I personally prefer soft flanges over hard flanges, such as the Pumpables Liquid Kits, Pumping Pals flanges, or Lacteck flanges. I have a blog post that goes over all the different flange types on the market here.
However, some moms do not respond to silicone and require the hard plastic. The only way to figure out which one is for you is to try both. (Don't worry, you can very likely resell or give away the pair that didn't work out!)
Soft flanges are especially good for elastic nipples -this is where your nipple tissue is "extra stretchy" and will extend to all the way the end of the flange and can even hit the back- I personally had that problem and I actually got some cuts from the back of the flange being so sharp at the edge. I have switched to silicone and never looked back.
You need to be sure that the flange size you have as well fitting, just like when you buy shoes! If your shoes are too big or too small, it hurts to walk. But if they fit right, then you can walk and run pain free! Flange fit is exactly the same. If it’s too small you just simply can’t use them, you’ll get blisters and you won’t have efficient milk removal. If they’re too large they’ll cause the nipples to swell and constrict the milk ducts- which in turn causes inefficient removal, and can even decrease supply due to milk being left behind. And that can also be an open door for clogs and mastitis! It's a whole big thing, I find I'm constantly saying "MEASURE YOUR NIPPLES!"
These inserts from Pumpables require much more frequent replacement than the PumpinPals or Lacteck, just a heads up. Monthly for 4+ pumps per day, typically. I believe my discount code of TEACHINGMOTHERHOOD is a single use per person so you'll want to go looking for other codes on the Pumpables Community Facebook page or various pumping pro instagram pages for reordering. I have seen others like PUMPEDUPMAMA, MIMIANDPAL, MAMAEVY, KARRIE10, PMP10, for example. They also have a bulk order discount code for 6+ sets of replacement parts, that code is PUMPALOT.
A note on liquid shields- I used to LOVE these, and they'd last me around 4 weeks even with 6-8 pumps per day. Eventually, the quality seemed to decrease and they'd only last 2 weeks with as little as 4 pumps per day. I couldn't afford $12 a pair twice a month, so I switched over to pumpin pals where I only needed to replace the duckbills and back flow protectors far less often.
The next most important thing is a hands free pumping bra.
You might think that you don’t need one, and you’d rather keep the 40 bucks. I know, because that was me. I can promise you that you are not meant to sit there for 20+ minutes holding flanges up to your breasts with your hands, with your wrists at a terrible angle.
With a hands-free bra you can just hook up and forget about it. You can read a book, you can use your phone, you can knit a sweater. You can also eat delicious snacks which you will need because breastfeeding makes you as ravenous as a momma bear in springtime.
I have tried a few different brands of pumping bras and these ones are my absolute favorite. I wear them all day every day, and I feel like a million bucks. The first one that I tried was so ugly I took it off every time I was not pumping, because I hated it so much and I couldn’t even wear it under my clothes. (hello super unflattering seams and quad boobs)
These ones, the Amelia Cami, are good enough to be worn as just a shirt when I’m at home. I have all of them and they’re worth every penny, in my opinion. They hold SO WELL onto every possible flange I own and my wearable pumps and cups. I plan to wear them after weaning too! Update: I wore them my ENTIRE pregnancy with my third baby, they're excellent for maternity.
Note: I have over time accumulated all of their styles, including maternity/postpartum shorts and the swim camis, which are also excellent. Honestly they don't have a single style I don't like. I highly highly recommend.
If you’re pumping, you may be lucky enough to get a couple feeds ahead of baby. You might even get to freeze some! The feeling of freezing your first bag is not matched by many other things in the world. You’re going to need something to hold milk in when it’s in the fridge, or the freezer, or while traveling. Remember- anything beyond what your baby eats in a day is "extra". If you were exclusively nursing, you'd have no extra! Not everyone makes extra, and that's fine and normal! Your worth is not measured in ounces.
Below are my personal favorites for using the pitcher method, bags that I freeze, and what I used to carry milk when traveling. I never go farther than an hour from home so I don’t have to worry much past a cooler bag or chiller bottle.
Want to freeze your bags SUPER flat? Give these a try, I will never freeze a bag by laying it flat ever again.
This one is debatable as a necessity of course, but if you're going somewhere far enough that you need to bring extra milk from the fridge, carry all of it in here and then pour out portions into the bottle as needed. Alternatively you can pump and pour fresh milk into this, and carry just one or two readily portioned bottles. Fresh milk is good sitting out longer than cold milk is, so I'd personally keep the cold milk in the chiller and the fresh milk out or at the least in my little lunchbox style cooler (that I bought before the ceres chill that does not stay cold as long). These can also be used as water bottles when they're no longer needed for breastmilk storage. They have recently released a smaller sized chiller as well, which can fit into more bags/cupholders and is better if you carry less milk.
If you're hoping that you can just pump "whenever you feel like it" or "whenever you get time", you are sadly outta luck. You need to set alarms for the best times, and keep up with the frequent sessions. Especially in the early days, and try to keep them around the same time each day and the same distance apart each day.
I can’t believe how many moms just pump when they think they get time and then they end up having three sessions a day and losing supply. It truly makes me cry. They just don't know!
It is extremely crucial to pump frequently and on a schedule, especially during the first 12 weeks when you're trying to build and establish your supply. It's so much easier to start off on a good foot than to struggle to build up once it's too late. Frequent milk removal in the first days/weeks actually increases the number of prolactin receptor sites, and builds the blueprint for your future milk supply.
I always recommend 8 to 12 sessions in a 24 hour period during the first 12 weeks, though some people think that that is impossible and give me a ton of crap for it. 12 is really tough, but 8 times is a little more manageable than that.
I pumped 12 times a day (15 minutes each) for the first 16 weeks, and I survived (barely). With my next baby, I will be doing 8x a day for 30 minutes each time.
It may be a lot easier to use something portable, hands free, etc. You can get a battery pack for larger wall plug pumps, or a smaller portable pump. Some moms even use fanny packs to carry their pumps around- I have this funky one by Idaho jones for the larger spectra pumps and you can use any smaller pack for littler pumps. For littler pumps I have a really bougie pack called the Harper, but truly any fanny pack can hold a littler pump!
If you want to be able to exclusively provide breastmilk for your baby you have to make your body think that it needs as much as you tell it to. (You're telling it with pump sessions, not telepathy).
If you are not replacing every single feed with a pump session, it’s not gonna add up unless you’ve got a "natural oversupply". And of course there are some women who have a low supply- who no matter how many times they pump in a day they just can’t keep up. To those women, I urge you to visit an IBCLC or another certified specialist (CLC, CBS etc) who may be able to find the source of the problem and help you.
A note: lactation counseling is often covered by insurance, please check into that if you're going forward with that kind of thing!!
Here is an example of a "strict" pumping regimen. I also recommend a daily or semi-regular power pump if you're trying to increase supply, see the next graphic for how that looks. A power pump is mimicking a hungry baby coming back for more milk, and signals your body to pick up production. You won't see immediate results (like during that session) but the point is to get the message across!
I have to put this bold, and all caps, because people seem to think I'm telling them to follow this schedule to a T.
THIS IS AN EXAMPLE. YOU DO NOT NEED TO FOLLOW THIS EXACTLY. I AM NOT TELLING YOU TO DO THAT.
"Bougie" extras that you probably don’t need, but are very nice to have.
Below is a list of things that are debatable as essentials, but I personally enjoy them.
A lot of people prefer coconut oil because it's cheaper and has more uses than strictly nipple butter, but I love this stuff. I lube my PumpinPals flanges with it, and it also makes a good chapstick!
LaVie sells these massagers, the curved pair here are also warming (reviews rave over these for cutting pump time down due to milk flowing out faster). I also personally take sunflower lecithin to thin out viscosity of milk to help prevent clogs- but remember to clear supplements/medications with your OBGYN or primary care provider first. Also note that the new mastitis/clog protocol advises against using heat, and to ice instead. There have been other brands popping up with cheaper lactation massagers but I have not tried those so I cant speak to their quality or battery life. Note that heated massagers use a TON of power for being such a small device, so it's expected that the battery doesn't last more than a few uses.
Special pump bag
I bought a special pump bag that I thought was a really good deal ($40) on Amazon, and I turned out to not really like it that much. More often than not, you get what you pay for in terms of quality with pump bags. I ended up buying a Sarah Wells pump bag during their 2022 outlet sale, and quickly became obsessed with the brand (and a few others) and have grown quite the large collection of bags. In my opinion, a pump bag is a very good investment as it protects your expensive pump while traveling. A regular bag can do the job, but it may be lacking a special protected compartment that's intended for a breast pump.
A tip I have is make sure you buy one that doubles as a diaper bag or bag you can use after you're done pumping to really get your money's worth!
I would like to add a little statement on galactagogues and promising "magic pill" supplements.
If you ever see an advertisement that shows full milk bottles with a product next to it that’s promising to increase your milk supply, they are preying on you. These are targeted ads that come up after searches on "milk supply issues", this is 100% a FACT. And it is not a "one size fits all"- some supplements work for some people, some don't work, and some can even have an opposite effect. Fenugreek, for example, has a large percentage of positive reviews but also a decent chunk of negative reviews (because some people, myself included, see a huge loss of supply when taking it). Especially for those with thyroid conditions, fenugreek can cause trouble.
Do you see here how I searched "increase milk supply" on Pinterest, and there's a clickbait post with full milk bottles and then next to it is that sponsored ad by Majka? That brand by the way, sells super tiny jars of protein powder for like $60, and says you need to take it for X amount of time before seeing results, which if you fall for it, is like two jars? This is not me dogging that company by any means, but that ad is targeted to pop up from that keyword search.
I'll say it again- These supplements CAN work, but are NOT a ONE SIZE FITS ALL. Be wary of that when trying them out.
Are there lactogenic foods that are known to help boost milk supply? Of course! It's something that's been around culturally for centuries, and there are a few studies here and there on it.
But to sell these expensive "magic pills" and snacks at such a high price is just mean.
There are certain superfoods that not only can increase your supply, but also help you get many extra nutrients that you may be missing in your diet. This is similar to people insisting that coconut water was the magic pill that boosted their supply when really they were just short on electrolytes and hydration! A lot of the time, cookies can "boost supply" too. This may be due to ingredients in the cookies, but often times is just the extra calories required for milk synthesis!
Example: Barley and barley malt are have the highest concentration of something called beta glucan, which can increase production and circulation of prolactin. (In humans and some animals!) and prolactin is one of the milk making hormones. Source: Boost Your Breastmilk, Alicia Simpson
Alright, that about does it. Did you get everything on your list? If you have any more questions, try skimming some of my other pumping resources such as:
I also encourage you to come join me on Instagram- I post daily information, polls, question boxes, and more. I'm also just a message away if you were to need any help!